I had a friend in my small-group at North Park first semester who has been blogging for a couple of years. She has amassed well over 500 blog posts in that short time. We are friends on Facebook and it seems that every time I scroll down my newsfeed I am assaulted (okay, that may be a grievous misuse of the word) by her contemplative, imaginative, beautifully ordinary writing. To this end, I am a horrible blogger. I fail massively at keeping my readers (another possible grievous misuse of the word) updated on my comings-and-goings. I complained about this to my friend Ethan over the summer and he sensibly told me to commit to writing once a week, even if it were just stream-of-consciousness mayhem that I refuse to post publicly on the internet. I told him I don’t have enough thoughts for that.
Contrarily, I might have too many thoughts for that. I suppose, as anybody who keeps a blog or even a personal journal might know, that the longer one goes without writing things down the harder it becomes to formulate any sort of coherent, well-executed thought. The last time I blogged was months ago. It would be quite near insane to attempt to compress so much time into a post a person might actually be interested in reading. Thus, the next few paragraphs are but a sparse, glimpsed narrative of what the inside of my head looks like these days. In between the moments I choose to include are thousands of other moments, each just as beautifully and blandly ordinary as the next; each, as Anne Lamott puts it, a lily pad that summoned and prepared me for the next lily pad to which I would leap. The stories untold are no less important than the ones told, but this post offers the essentials in which to convey what God has been sanding and sawing and hammering away at in me for the past couple of months. I use those verbs quite purposefully, in fact. It is ironic that Jesus’ day job was carpentry. God is one hell of an artist, I’m sure, but She isn’t always the most gentle.
When I was younger, I was the kind of child who would invite friends over to play and then lock myself in the bathroom to lay on the cool tiled floor and read. Seriously. Ask any of my oldest friends and they will testify that I often forwent their friendship in lieu of a good chapter book. That love of reading, of knowledge, of exploration of the billions of minds before me, followed me into high school and college. In high school, I read Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and immediately had a crisis of faith. I traipsed into the youth group room at church the following Tuesday and told my pastor, Jen, that we were going to discuss each question on all seven pages of notes I had taken on the book. (I don’t recall if we ever actually did. But her support was immense.) This past semester at school, I vividly recall becoming so worked up over a topic of research I was covering for a class that I called Jen near midnight to shout at her all the things my brain was currently trying to process. I think that time she laughed at me and proceeded to tweet the situation.
My team here in Thailand has often told me that they love my inability to take anything at face-value, love that I have a need to play devil’s advocate towards myself, to research everything. To be fair, it does seem as though my levels of literary exploration have skyrocketed since being abroad. What once was an enjoyable hobby has become something rabid, fierce, necessary. What started as self-research to know what I call “my deep fundamentals” has spiraled into devouring every piece of literature on every controversial topic I can get my hands on. I’ve been thinking about God and talking about God but the more I do, the more wasted actual conversation WITH God seems. I’ve surrounded myself with lowercase god but God, at times, feels so far away.
There was a girl named Shekinah in my youth group in high school. She was intelligent. Beyond intelligent. She knew the Bible forwards and backwards; she quoted C.S. Lewis as often as she wore a baseball cap on her curly-haired head, which was always. I constantly coveted her vast knowledge of Scripture and it’s exegesis. But I remember her saying to me once as everyone was filing out of the room, “I know so much about God that now it’s like I don’t know God at all.”
Jo is a woman at our ministry who escaped the bars years ago. I am in love with Jo. Jo, in all her giggly, pointed strangeness, is one of my favorites. You are allowed to have favorites, I think, when you live with people for three months. She speaks limited English, but what she lacks in vocabulary she makes up for in squinty-eyed grins. I try to always make sure I go with her when we head to the bar streets for outreach. The first time I went with her, a couple weeks ago, we were in a taxi crawling through the littered highways of Bangkok when she turned to me and screeched, “Who’s going to win today?”
“What do you mean, Jo?” I responded.
“YOU! You are going to win today.” She replied, ignoring my question.
I just stared at her.
This is beautiful. This is beautiful because Jo doesn’t actually mean that I will be the one to win when we go into those dark, dirty, sacred bar streets. Jo means that God through me is going to win. But for her, that goes as unspoken, obvious, accounted for. Obviously I, with my discernment and insurmountable knowledge and self-aggrandizement, am absolutely incapable of anything without God.
I wonder how often I am more focused on what it means to live in light of the Gospel than I am with the Gospel itself. After all, the Gospels are ordered first in the New Testament, where the spotlight is on God Incarnate, the Risen Messiah. Only afterwards, secondary to the Gospels, come the Epistles in which all that puzzling out, curiosity, and debate take place. Slowly, slowly, God is convicting me: I have been clinging to theology, all the while skeptically inspecting Christ’s outstretched hand.
I want the Church to change. I want the world to change. But God, in Her ever grace-filled, transformative way, is showing me that this change must first and foremost take place in me.